“For us Malayalees, beef and parotta is not just food. It is a deep-seated emotion.” This is a dialogue from the Malayalam film Godha, which was released seven days before the new central law imposed restrictions on cattle trade. The protagonist, played byTovino, a student at Punjab University at the insistence of his father, tells his Tamil friend what the delicious beef and parotta combination means to him. Inspired by the memories of the delectable Kerala dish, they both set off in search of beef, and end up getting manhandled by the ‘Gou Raksha Samiti’. The satirized scene has been welcomed with thunderous applause. “Food is a fundamental right; any move curtailing the same is contemptuous. I wanted to say this in my movie, but a direct reference may not be well accepted, hence we brought it through satire,” says Basil Joseph, the director of Godha. “I have been getting the same response from all screenings in Kerala: the audience welcomes this scene with great applause.”
The dust over beef has not yet subsided in Kerala. The state has been boiling over the central Government’s new restrictions on cattle trade since last month. On the very next day of the ban, beef festivals were conducted in every nook and corner of Kerala to protest the new rule. Since beef has always spiced up the state politics, the Left parties took the lead of the protest. The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) conducted beef fests in around 210 centers, while Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) went ahead with more than 1,000 beef fests in the local and unit level. The social media is awash with trolls against the Centre. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan categorically rejected the order with a warning that neither Nagpur nor Delhi can have a say over the choice of food for the people of Kerala. He has written a strongly-worded letter to the Prime Minister, expressing state’s concern over the new norms. The Cabinet, which convened on May 31st, has decided to organise the meeting of all the Chief Ministers in the country. The Government is actively considering bringing a statute to protect the interest of the state. A special session of the Assembly was convened for formulating the same on June 8. Vijayan alleged that the BJP Government in the Centre is infringing upon the rights of the states in disguise of framing rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. “Whether the Centre has the right to impose such restrictions upon states should be verified. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the Government has no right to restrict the functioning of cattle markets,” he said in a press briefing after the cabinet meeting. The Chief Minister has been hailed not only by the people of Kerala but also the neighboring states. Tweets from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been very evocative about Vijayan. Tamilian filmmaker Ananthamurthy tweeted that he wants to have a leader like him for the people of Tamil Nadu.
When the Left organisations took over, Youth Congress decided to veer the attention with a different agenda. A team of Youth Congress activists in Kannur slaughtered a calf in public, a move that backfired immensely–the act was condemned widely. Congress dismissed this act and suspended eight of the party members. AICCVice-President Rahul Gandhi called it barbaric and completely unacceptable. Eight of them, including Kannur Mandal President Rajil Makkutti, were later arrested by the police under various sections of Kerala Police Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Irrespective of the intention behind the ban, Kerala is going to be one of the worst-hit states. According to the Government, every year, 15 lakh cattle arrive in the state and the meat market accounts for Rs 6,552 crore with a quantity of around 2.5 lakhs tones. “Around five lakh people in Kerala depend on this business and the new central law would have direct impact upon their livelihood,” says Vijayan.
The impact is conspicuous. Vaniyamkulam in Palakkadu district, one of the biggest cattle markets in Kerala, is desolate after the Centre’s new order. “An average of 20 to 25 truckloads of cattle comes to this market every day, with around 1,000 cattle. Now, we don’t even receive 10 loads despite being Thursday (weekly cattle market day),” says Yusuf Appakkattil, the state secretary of Cattle Merchants Association. There is a 90 per cent drop in the market, according to his estimate. “There are around 150 cattle markets in Kerala; we need around 15 lakhs a day,” adds Appakkattil. The major cattle suppliers to Kerala are Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “Cattle merchants in all these states are badly hit. We are thinking of legal remedies collectively,” says Appakkattil.
However, even before the new law, the cattle market was in a bad shape, according to the association. “The movement of trucks from other states is often interrupted by goons in disguise of gaurakshaks; they stop the trucks and demand money. The police also go hand in hand with them; we have to bribe at least in four to five points on the way “says Appakkattil. He further says that the new restrictions will have far-reaching impact on dairy farming as well. “Only buffalos are taken to the slaughtering market. Cows are being bought by diary farmers; they prefer cows of good breed from other states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The diary industry is going to be hit “says Yusuf. The dairy farmers agree to this view. Shaji K Prabhakaran from Thrissur, who runs a dairy farm, is scared that he would have to close down the business. “I have around 30 cows in my farm, twenty of them were brought from Tamil Nadu, and there are better breeds in other states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat”. Shaji who was an expat winded up his life in Gulf and came back to Kerala and started the farm couple of years back. He has invested 40 lakhs in the business.Initially, he used to bring cows from Gujarat as the state has the best breed of cows that have better immunity and milk production. “I stopped bringing cows from Gujarat in the wake of increasing incidence of violence on cattle movers. Now I take load only from Tamil Nadu” There are many farmers like Shaji facing crisis. “Now BJP says slaughtering or eating beef is not banned, but only brought restrictions upon cattle market. These are only technical explanations which do not really help; the primary issue is that the cattle movement is completely stopped as people are scared of being attacked”, says Shaji. Those who interrupt the cattle movement do not have any discretion whether its buffalo or cow.
This fear is not baseless; the trend of stopping truck loads of cattle in the state borders has already started. Members of Hindu Munnani blocked a truck load of cattle from Tamil Nadu at Velanthavalam check post in Palakkadu at night on June 1st. On the face of a stiff resistance by the Hindu Munnani, the truck was promptly sent back to Tamil Nadu, according to the highway police personnel.
KN Surendran Nair, the chairman of MILMA’s branch in Malabar, suggests that the restrictions on cattle trade would have lethal impact upon dairy farming and milk production in Kerala. “So far, no issues have been raised as it is too early to see bad signs. But I think the farmers would slowly wind up dairy farming. What would a farmer do with an unproductive cow? The normal life span is around 25 years and the maximum period of milk production is around 10 years. The farmers have no option but to sell them for slaughtering,” says Nair. He further says that there would be a price escalation in the milk market too.
The state subsidy for dairy farmers can be availed only if they buy cows from other states, according to an order issued by the Dairy Development Department 10 years ago. “The Government provides 50 per cent subsidy. Such a restriction was imposed with an intention to control malpractices–people used to show cows from neighbourhood in order to get money through the scheme,” says SK Girija, dairy development officer of Puzhakkal block in Thrissur. “The Government brought such a regulation to ensure that the subsidy goes to the right person. Now the farmers would suffer due to the new law. As the farmers are not able to bring cattle from outside, the Government’s scheme would get paralysed,” says the officer.
The impending crisis in the beef industry is discernible in the market. Signs of scarcity and subsequent price hike have already begun. “No load is coming. The market is stuck. We have stock for the time being, but it would be in a state of crisis in a few days,” says Sameer PA, who runs a wholesale slaughtering market in Ernakulam, “We sell 250 to 300 kgs of meat a day; people from all religions buy meat.” Sameer doesn’t agree that the slaughtering is taking place under untidy and barbaric conditions. “It may be happening in other states. It cannot certainly happen in Kerala. You can see how clean this market is right now,” he says, pointing to the clean cutting tables .The slaughtering area in the backyard of the market was being washed. According to him, the customers would turn their backs on them if it’s not clean.
“Malayalee’s desire for beef doesn’t have a caste or religion. It is purely secular,” says VT Balram, MLA and Youth Congress leader, who is strongly vocal about views on Facebook, even before his party issues an official response on any issue. “Beef is not a new phenomenon. It is an indigenous food of Kerala, just like tapioca and rice. It is not a ‘Muslim food’, as many outside Kerala might have misunderstood,” says Balram. His one-liner post against the Prime Minister had gone viral.
Meanwhile, the beef festivals in protest against the new central law continue in the state. Apart from the mainstream political parties, independent organisations have also joined the show. On Saturday, Punarjani, a collective of women lawyers in Kozhikkode, organised a beef iftar to protest the new rule. “The order came on the previous day of the beginning of Ramzan fasting. We don’t think it was accidental. It goes against the interest of Muslims. Here, Hindus and Muslims live in harmony and we want to show our solidarity with Muslims,” says Sapna Parameswaran, the convener of Punarjani, who conducts beef iftar.
Hundreds of beef posts popped up on social media voicing the love for beef and the right to eat food of one’s choice. Blogger Arjun Raj explains very simply the rationality behind Kerala’s resistance to the new central law. This is what he writes: “Kerala is a place where a young Muslim man held a ‘Payasam fest’ to protest against an Imam who declared Onam as forbidden for Muslims. It’s a place where my mother cooks these delicious sweets called ‘Vishu Ada’ during Vishu and gifts it to our Christian friends who in turn gives us an Easter savory called ‘Indri Appam’, as Easter and Vishu tend to overlap. It’s a place where Hindus, Christians, and atheists rush to their Muslim friends’ house for Ifthar. Yes, we are connected through our love for food. It has been that way since forever. So when we tell you it’s important to us, we are not being corny or just playing politics. We actually mean it.”